Saturday, November 13, 2010

Misrepresentation of Facts

            I do indeed subscribe to the realities as laid out by our Session Three scholars, that of a US society that is pummeled from all sides by corporations and news organization with an agenda driven by capitalism, and very rarely is that agenda beneficial to us.
Maldive Islands, Indian Ocean
McKibben frames this awareness of the misrepresentation of facts by media beautifully when he states, “Our society is moving steadily from natural sources of information toward electronic ones…so we need to understand the two extremes.  One is the target of our drift.  The other an anchor that might tug us gently back, a source of information that once spoke clearly to us and now hardly even whispers...Information ecology is now heralded as an adequate replacement to the natural ecology.  TV masks and drowns out the information that used to be provided by the physical world.  (McKibben, Daybreak). Continuing this vein of questioning, he follows that up with “Can we, blessed with technology but also with nature, get it right?” (5 AM).  By this rhetorical question, McKibben is asking if we can somehow align what nature has mandated as requirements for survival with the new reality of a an age known as the “knowledge age” where knowledge trumps skills and physical competencies.
Frozen Food VS Food Source
These skills and competencies were instilled in humanity to manage the limitations that we have had to deal with since civilization started—how to find enough food to feed the community, how to keep ourselves warm, what water sources were potable.  Considering these limitations, McKibben uses his experiment of watching 24 hours of televised cable channels to compare microwavable mini-burgers to the actual production of that same food 150 years ago.  The process of raising the beef, understanding the requirements and realities of both agricultural and livestock farming, gaining the competencies of butchering, baking  and preserving were skills that were required in order to enjoy a dinner of hamburgers.  In stark contrast, our present day process required to put hamburgers on the table for dinner includes only two necessities—money and a visit to the store where we see a seemingly endless supply of burgers, buns and condiments.  Imagine if we had to raise & grind the wheat, kneed the dough by hand and bake it on the hearth?  Would you let one of those pieces of bread start to mold?  Would you mindlessly throw it out with the garbage?  As McLuhan states, “content of a medium is like the juicy meat piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind” (1994) which is to say the medium does its best to distract and placate us, even snickering with us at the absurdity of the medium, while simultaneously sliding messaging into our subconscious with the goal of affecting our conscious decisions for their financial gain.

Considering these limited resources, I’m extremely disappointed with the experience Dena Kleiman shared with the New York Times about her trip to southern Chile.  According to her story, she had always fantasized about eating her own catch; in essence feeding herself through her own hunter-gatherer experience.  However, in the act of consuming her own catch, she was struck with the violence and guilt of it all, and left the fish uneaten.  What a tremendous waste of a limited resource and, in what many other cultures of the world would relate as well, what a violation of the natural order.  The rationale used by hunting cultures is to hunt for subsistence, and in so doing, honor all parts of the animal that sacrificed their life for the existence of their own culture.  Dena failed to honor the animal she lured out from the depths of the southern Chilean river by refusing to eat the very animal she killed, and in so doing, reminded us all how disconnected we are from the source of our food.  Another view of this same disconnect principle is presented to us in the movie Food Inc where the exposed process of agribusiness has decimated any warm and friendly concept of farming that the average American holds in their mind.
This disconnect then brings us to Chomsky, who holds that when people have access to information and curiosity you can no longer require them to submit to the rule of law without unbridled participation.  This unbridled participation hinges upon a society that presents facts, then provides a forum for dialogue and discussion.  As we saw in Outfoxed, one news source with enough financial backing can channel the entire ecosystem of “news” and create the reality its financial backer’s want the public to see.   As McKibben relates, “Most of the time, though, the information that TV has to offer is not spelled out in such tidy little factlets.  It is at least a little hidden in the fabric of movies and newscasts and commercials and reruns.  Not so hidden that you need to hire a team of deconstruction contractors to analyze it all—just hidden enough that the messages are passed over, absorbed through the eyes without trigger in the entire brain” (McKibben, Daybreak). 
With this overarching concern for the individual’s attention to the messaging and content, responsibility rests on citizens to develop avenues of voice that are publicly funded (e.g. Public Radio International) and to take individual leadership in their own consumption of the media and respond with unbridled passion when the blatant and/or subversive misrepresentation of facts does occur.

Greenwald, R.  (2004).  Outfoxed; Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism. 
Herman & Chomsky, N..  (1988). A Propaganda Model from Manufacturing Consent.  Pantheon, NY.
McKibben, B.  (1993). Daybreak from The Age of Missing Information.  Penguin Books, NY
McKibben, B. (1993).  5:00 A.M. from The Age of Missing Information.  Penguin Books, NY
McLuhan, M.  (1994).  Understanding Media; the extensions of man.  Gingko Press, CA.

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